During a residency as part of the No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia exhibition in Hong Kong, the Asia Society Hong Kong Center asked Khadim Ali about his family’s history and the inspirations behind his work.
Your family left Afghanistan at a turbulent period in the country’s history. How does this affect your feelings towards the country and your place of birth?
My family left Afghanistan in the 1890s when the first grand massacres of Hazara started by King Amir Abdul Rahman, and he massacred over 62% of the entire population of Hazaras and captured their land and took their children and ladies as slaves and sold Hazaras to India—almost 10,000 Hazaras were sold to India and all the taxes were given to the government. So it was then my grandparents left Afghanistan and moved to India, before the partition of Pakistan and India, so they chose to live at the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan with the hope that someday Afghanistan will be a free land and they are going to claim their land back, but it never happened.
Hong Kong is a very multicultural city, home to over 7 million people of many nationalities. What are your impressions of the city?
I felt like everything is pointing skywards and it’s like a compressed version of New York and I was thinking I am going to have extreme problems here because I don’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese, but then almost every second person is a really good English-speaking person.
What do you hope audiences will take away from your work?
When audiences ask me what is the meaning of that particular artwork, I always think that a work of art is like a poem—when you read a poem, a poem is so versatile, you just own it and personalize it. It goes into your very personal moments and stays in you, if you like, and you translate it according to your own feeling. I think a work of art—of visual art—should be like that and having that versatility of a poem or versatility of music.
Your work is informed and inspired by storytelling and ancient texts – could you elaborate on that?
I don’t want people to come in and look at the work the way I am looking at the work. They are free to have whatever meaning they want to—my work is part of my life and part of my career with the storytelling culture but my work is not a story. There is no story behind the work. I think there shouldn’t be any story behind any visual artwork—it should be as free as music, it should have the versatility of music.
Which artists inspire you?
I always ask myself which artists I am inspired by but I only look at my work and can say which artists I am inspired by. I am inspired by the 15th-century old master Muhammad Siyah Qalam, who also painted demons and I am really inspired by his works.
Originally published by Asia Society Hong Kong Center © 2013 Asia Society